Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
NATURE OF HOLY ABANDONMENT
GOD'S WILL, THE SUPREME RULE OF LIFE
WE want to save our souls and to tend to the perfection of the spiritual life. That is to say, we want to purify ourselves thoroughly, to make progress in all the virtues, to attain to loving union with God, and so in a sense to transform ourselves into Him ever more and more. This is the sole occupation to which we have exclusively consecrated our lives. It is a work of incomparable grandeur, yet also one that involves almost endless toil. It offers us liberty of spirit, peace and joy of heart, and the sweet unction of the Holy Ghost; but, on the other hand, it demands of us sacrifices innumerable and the patient labour of a lifetime. An undertaking so colossal would assuredly be not only difficult but utterly impossible to us, were we left dependent upon our own resources, for it belongs to the purely supernatural order. But "I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me " (Phil. iv, 13). Without God, we are absolutely powerless, unable to do anything at all meritorious of eternal life; as St. Paul says: we cannot of ourselves even think or will what is good, much less bring it to accomplishment (2 Cor. iii, 5; Phil. ii, 13). We have still greater reason to despair of ourselves and to put all our trust in Divine grace when our object is the eradication of vice, the perfect acquisition of virtue, and a life of intimate union with God.
What a paradoxical being is man! utterly helpless, and at the same time omnipotent! Apart from God, he is so weak and resourceless that he cannot so much as conceive a good thought; whereas, with the Divine assistance, enterprises the most sublime are within his competence. Happily, God has condescended to make Himself " the support of our salvation " (Ps. lxxxviii, 27), for which we can never sufficiently thank Him. Nevertheless, He will not save us without our co-operation. Consequently, we must unite our activity with His, and all the more zealously for the reason that without His support we shall labour in vain.
Our sanctification, even our salvation, is therefore the work of two. The action of God is of absolute necessity and so likewise is our co-operation: there must be an uninterrupted harmony between the Divine will and the human. Whoso works with God is continually advancing in virtue, whilst he who chooses to depend upon his own efforts either falls into sin or, at best, wearies himself with unprofitable agitation. Hence it is a matter of supreme importance to maintain this alliance on all occasions and in all our actions, the least as well as the greatest, since otherwise we lose both our labour and our time. How many actions which to men appear to be perfect are yet empty of merit in the sight of God, simply because He has had no part in them! For that reason, in spite of the trouble they may have cost us, they have as little value for eternity as if they had never been done at all.
But if God participates in the work of our sanctification, we must from first to last allow Him the direction of the enterprise: nothing is to be done save in accordance with His designs, under His orders, and by the inspirations of His grace. He is the First Principle and the Last End of all things, whilst we are only His creatures, created to accomplish His will. In His goodness He has called us to "a school of Divine service" (Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Prol.) in order there to make Himself our Teacher; He has placed us in "the workshop of the monastery" (Ibid.) in order there to direct our labour; "He has enrolled us under His standard" (Holy Rule, iv.) so that He may lead us Himself to the combat. For to the Sovereign Master belongs the right to command, to infallible wisdom the right to make all arrangements; the creature can collaborate, but only in subordination to the Creator's will.
This continual dependence will doubtless impose on us manifold renunciations. It will demand of us the sacrifice of our short-sighted views, of our whims and caprices. Nature, of course, will complain, but we must turn a deaf ear to her murmurings. What greater blessing could befall us than to have the Divine wisdom for our guide, the Divine omnipotence for our support, and to be associated with God in the work of our salvation? Moreover, all the profit of this joint enterprise comes to us. God demands as His share only the glory that exclusively belongs to Him and the pleasure of benefiting us; the rest He leaves to His human collaborators. And what do these gain? The perfection of their nature, elevation to a higher mode of existence, the only true prosperity attainable in this life, and the pledge of eternal happiness in the life to come. Oh! if we could but comprehend the designs of God and our own real interests, we should have no other desire than to be perfectly submissive to Him, no other fear but the fear of failing in submission; we should entreat Him and weary Him with our entreaties that His holy will might be accomplished in us rather than our own. But how foolish we should be, and how unfortunate, were we to abandon so wise and powerful a Leader in order to follow our own delusive lights and to live according to our fancies!
Here is a further consideration which will show us how truly it can be said that the love of God and the accomplishment of His will "is all man" (Eccles. xii, 13). The Divine will, taken in general, is for us the ultimate criterion of what is good, "the sole rule of what is just and perfect," as St. Alphonsus expresses it. And the measure in which we accomplish that will is also the measure of our advancement.
"If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt. xix, 17). Therefore, in order to obtain admission into the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to cry: Lord! Lord! We have also to do the will of Our Father Who is in Heaven (Id. viii, 21). "He that remains united to the will of God lives and saves his soul; he that prefers to follow his own will dies and is lost." 1 "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast . . . and come, follow Me" (Matt. xix, 21). That is to say: accomplish the will of God with more completeness, by adding the observance of the counsels to that of the precepts. If thou wilt mount to the very summit of perfection, accomplish the will of God with ever-growing exactitude and generosity. You will advance in proportion as your obedience becomes more universal in its object, more exact in its execution, more supernatural in its motives, more perfect in the dispositions of your will. "Search the Scriptures" (John v, 39), examine the life and teaching of Our Saviour: you shall find that nothing more is demanded of you but "the faith that worketh by charity" (Gal. v, 6), and the love that proves its loyalty by keeping the word of God. Your perfection, in a word, will be commensurate with the perfection of your obedience to the Divine will. So important is this point that we judge it well to adduce some authorities in support of our statements. "Never forget this great truth," writes the elder St. Teresa: "namely, that they who are beginning to devote themselves to prayer should first of all endeavour with all their power, with all their courage, and by every possible means, to conform their wills to the will of God. In this conformity, believe me, consists the most sublime perfection of the spiritual life. . . . Do not imagine, then, that our advancement depends on something esoteric and extraordinary. No, all our spiritual progress is measured by the degree of our conformity to the Divine will." 2
"Everyone"-----so speaks St. Francis de Sales-----"seems to have his own peculiar ideas as to what constitutes spiritual perfection. Some make it to consist in the practice of austerity in dress or in food, others seek it in almsgiving, in the frequentation of the Sacraments, in prayer, in a certain kind of passive and sublime contemplation, or in those extraordinary graces which theologians call gratiae gratis datae. Such persons deceive themselves. They mistake the effect for the cause, the accessory for the principal, the shadow for the substance. For my own part, I neither know nor understand any other perfection than that which consists in loving God with one's whole heart and one's neighbour as oneself." The holy Doctor completes his thought in another place, where he says: "Devotion (or perfection) adds nothing to the fire of charity except the flame which renders charity prompt, active and diligent, not alone in keeping the commandments, but also in practising the counsels and following Divine inspirations." 3
The following is from Rodriguez: "Just as the love of God is the most sublime and perfect form of virtue, so perfect submission to the Divine will is the best and purest expression, the fairest flower of that love. . . . Besides, is it not manifest that, since there can be nothing so good and perfect as the will of God, in the measure in which we conform ourselves thereto, in that measure precisely do we become virtuous and holy?" 4
A learned disciple of St. Alphonsus sums up the holy Doctor's teaching in these words: "They for whom sanctity signifies the multiplication of penances, Communions, and vocal prayers, labour manifestly under a delusion. For such practices are good only in so far as God wills them. Out of harmony with His will, so far from giving Him pleasure, they rather merit His detestation and punishment. Therefore, they are only intended to serve as means to unite our wills to His. Let me repeat it: all perfection, all sanctity consists in faithfully accomplishing that which God requires of us. The Divine will is the norm of all goodness and of all virtue. Being holiness itself, it sanctifies whatever it touches, even indifferent actions when they are done to please God. . . . If, therefore, we wish to sanctify our souls, this should be our one aim: never to follow our own wills, but always the Divine. For the whole multiplicity of precepts and counsels can be reduced to the single injunction that we do and suffer whatsoever God wills and as He wills. Hence the essentials of perfection may be expressed in the formula: Do all that God wills, will all that God does." 5
But now let us hear St. Alphonsus himself: "All our perfection consists in the love of our God, infinitely amiable, and the perfection of love is found in the union of our wills with the Divine. . . . If then we desire to gratify fully the heart of our God, we must endeavour not merely to conform but to identify, if I may so speak, our wills with His, so that there shall no longer be two wills but only one. . . . The Saints have always contented themselves with just doing the will of God, convinced that this alone constituted their spiritual perfection. The Lord described David as a man according to His own heart, precisely because that great King was ever ready to follow the direction of the Divine will. And if Mary, the Virgin Mother, was the most perfect of all the Saints, she owes her pre-eminence to the fact that she surpassed all others in the perfection of her constant union with the will of God." 6
As for Him Who is the Saint of Saints, the Love of our hearts, and the Model of all perfection, how otherwise can one describe His earthly career save as a continual exercise of love and obedience? In His devotion to the heavenly Father and to men, He substitutes Himself for the unavailing holocausts and becomes the universal Victim. The path marked out by the will of His Father shall lead Him through all kinds of sufferings and humiliations, even to death, and the death of the Cross. He knows it. It was the desire to accomplish this crucifying but life-giving will that brought Him down from Heaven. At His entrance into this world He announced that He had placed His Father's will in the centre of His Heart to be the object of His love, and inscribed it on His Hands to be faithfully accomplished. (Ps. xxxix, 7-8; Heb. x, 5-9.) This loving obedience will be His nourishment, will sum up His hidden life, and will be the inspiration of His public life, so that He will be able to say: "I always do the things that please My Father" (John viii, 29). Yea, and at the moment of His death, He will utter His loud cry of triumph: "It is consummated" (John xix, 30). As if He would say: "My Father, I have carried My love for Thee to the furthest possible limit. I have accomplished the work of Redemption, because I have done Thy will in all things, without failing in the least jot or tittle." To identify our wills with the will of God: there you have the summit of perfection, according to St. Alphonsus. '" We should, therefore," he continues, "aspire without ceasing to such identification. It should be the one object of all our actions, of all our desires, of all our meditations, of all our petitions." 7 After the example of our beloved Jesus, let us in all things see nothing but the heavenly Father's will. Let it be our sole ambition to accomplish the same with ever-increasing fidelity, with untiring generosity, and from motives purely supernatural. So shall we follow the Saviour with giant strides here, and mount nigh to Him in glory hereafter. "One day in vision the Blessed Stephanie Soncino, Dominicaness, was carried up into Heaven. There she beheld many souls, whom she had known on earth, placed in the ranks of the seraphim. At the same time it was revealed to her that they had merited their exaltation to so sublime a degree of glory by having lived their mortal lives in perfect union with the will of God." 8
1. St. Alphonsus Liguori, Voie du Salut, Ire p., med. 97.
2. Château, IIdem, 1.
3. Esprit., Ire p., 19.
4. Perf. Chrét., 8e tr., c. I.
5. Omer, Prat. de la pert., c. I.
6. Confor., I.
7. op. cit., ibid.
8. Id., ibid.